Living Like an Essay

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

For many years, I made my students write essays, and now, at 79, I am more and more thinking about the possibility of living like an essay. The French verb ‘essayer’ means ‘try or attempt’, and perhaps it can be loosely translated as ‘take a chance, experiment, see what happens next.’ Michel de Montaigne, known as the western world’s first essayist, took a chance with his writing. His sentences and paragraphs were experiments in sincere, unrestrained thinking. He let his words loose on the page to see what would happen next, and thereby gave future writers (including my students) a new and powerful way to write with both honesty and zest. I wonder if a person could live that way – I mean live like an essay, like a moment-by-moment experiment to see what would happen next? Could a 79-year-old guy set aside his plans and projects and strategies and wariness and worries, and just let the experiment called ‘life’ take place? Could he let the river of each day flow freely, like the words of a good essay, each fearless sentence leading easily to the next, each unmatched moment making ready for the next? 🙂

Hey, I’m living like an essay!

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